Syria protesters mark 1982 massacre

2012-02-03 17:59

Damascus - Thousands of protesters in towns across Syria defied a brutal government crackdown on Friday to commemorate the notorious 1982 massacre in the city of Hama that killed tens of thousands.

In Hama's central neighbourhood of Junub al-Malaab, security forces opened fire on demonstrators, killing at least one and wounding three others, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Protesters emerged from Friday prayers in the port city of Latakia despite a menacing presence of forces who fired gunshots to disperse the crowds, the Observatory said, adding a similar demonstration was held in Yabrod, Damascus province.

Under the slogan "Hama, forgive us", regime opponents called for demonstrators to dress in black and to march in honour of the estimated 10 000 to 40 000 people who died in the massacre ordered by the father of President Bashar Assad.

Similar rallies were staged on Thursday in memory of the victims as Western and Arab countries sought to reach agreement on a draft resolution to pressure Syria to end an almost 11-month crackdown on anti-regime protests.

The latest text being considered by members of the UN Security Council does not explicitly call on Assad to step down or mention an arms embargo or sanctions, though it "fully supports" an Arab League plan to facilitate a democratic transition.

Complicated issues

Diplomats said on Thursday that the new draft, which took into account concerns by Russia, a staunch ally of Damascus, would be sent back to their governments for deliberations. It was not immediately clear whether it would be approved and sent back to the 15-member council for a vote.

But diplomats played down expectations, with US ambassador Susan Rice saying: "We are still not there."

"There are still some complicated issues that our capitals will have to deliberate on and provide us with instructions," she said.

Relations between Russia and the West in the Security Council were badly strained over a resolution that authorised the use of force to protect civilians during Libya's uprising last year.

The violence in Syria has killed at least 6 000 people since it erupted in March, according to rights groups.

The ruthless crackdown by the regime, however, and the mounting death toll has not deterred protesters from taking to the streets.

Six killed

Demonstrations in various provinces are held on a near daily basis and in recent weeks have reached the doorstep of the capital, until now largely spared the unrest.

The central city of Homs has become a flashpoint of the revolt with the rebel Free Syrian Army, made up of defectors and sympathisers, in control of several neighbourhoods.

A video posted on YouTube on Thursday showed about 20 armed members of the rebel army parading through the old city of Homs on board a military vehicle and hailed by residents.

The video could not be independently verified as the Syrian government has barred access to most foreign media except on escorted trips.

The Syrian Observatory said six people were killed on Friday, including two children who died in an explosion near a cultural centre in Kfartakharim in northwestern Idlib region.

Human Rights Watch said in a report released on Friday that children as young as 13 are a particular target in the "rampant" use of torture by Syrian government forces battling opposition protests.

Rampant use of torture

While the United Nations says hundreds of children have been killed in the crackdown, the rights group highlighted cases of children shot in their homes or on the street, or grabbed from schools.

It documented 12 cases of children being tortured in detention centres and said many more may have suffered similar treatment.

"In many cases, security forces have targeted children just as they have targeted adults," said Lois Whitman, children’s rights director at the New York-based organisation.

The group's report said more than 100 people who had been held by security forces "described rampant use of torture in detention centres against even the youngest detainees, even beyond the 12 cases specifically documented".

"Children, some as young as 13, reported to Human Rights Watch that officers kept them in solitary confinement, severely beat and electrocuted them, burned them with cigarettes, and left them to dangle from metal handcuffs for hours at a time, centimetres above the floor," said the report.